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Why Adoptive Parents Support Open Records for Adult Adoptees

Here is a selection of quotes from adoptive parents in support of open records for adult adoptees. Open records are not a threat to the adoptive family nor do they threaten adoption. Open records for adult adoptees is NOT the same as open adoption. BN holds no stance on open adoption.

From: Jennifer Strickler: jstrickl@polyglot.uvm.edu

I am the adoptive mother of three children, ages 3, 6, and 11. When I first became an adoptive parent, I didn’t give much thought to the issue of record sealing, although my husband and I both agreed that we would support our children if they wanted to search for their birthparents when they reached adulthood. I had several friends who were adopted, and none of them seemed concerned about not knowing their biological families. To me, it didn’t seem to be a big deal.

But as my oldest daughter grows up, I am more and more convinced that she should have the right to know about her history, her roots, her medical and biological history. She has so many questions to which I can only respond, “I don’t know.” She deserves more. She wants to know why she was relinquished, she wants to know more about her birthmom’s decision, about the relationship between her birthparents, about her biological siblings. She wants to know if the people in her birthfamily are tall and slender (as she is), if any of them are gifted musicians, or math-phobic, whether her muscular build runs in her family. I can see already that she feels like there’s a piece of herself missing, and I want her to be able to fill that hole.

I know that in my family of origin, and my husbands, we take pleasure in seeing what we do and do not have in common, much of which is biological. I recently stopped biting my nails, and my father noted with satisfaction that I have “his” thumbnail (short and square). I want my daughter to have the opportunity to know relatives with her long, slender fingers.

The only threat I feel, when I think about open records, is the fear that my children could get hurt. What if their birthfamilies refuse to communicate with them? It was bad enough to be given away once; I certainly don’t want them to feel twice rejected. But…I also think that knowledge is empowering. Better to know the truth than to always wonder.

Within the last 10 years, two of my adoptee friends have decided to search for their birthfamilies. One was motivated by the birth of her children, the other by the onset of a terminal illness. As I watched them battle to find information, and then to process the emotional experience of reunion, I did not see that anyone gained anything by the secrecy of birth records. And I certainly think it should be the individual’s decision, not the State’s, whether they want to contact their birth families.

Jennifer Strickler

From: Steve White: swhite@interaccess.com
Newsgroups: alt.adoption
Subject: My testimony today to IL legislature
Date: Wed, 02 Oct 1996 22:04:02 -0600

Good morning, Ms. Chairman. I wish to thank the Committee and Representative Lindner for inviting me to speak today.

My name is Steve White. I am a physician and I teach medicine at the University of Chicago. My wife and I adopted our daughter when she was but several days old about four years ago. I am here today to speak against the confidentiality provisions of the Uniform Adoption Act and to speak strongly in favor of openness and open records in adoption.

Let me say first that I believe strongly in adoption. When done properly it is a situation in which each party benefits greatly. Adoption can be the best solution sometimes to a difficult problem. It is good, and things that are good in society are things that we should be able to defend openly.

It is sometimes said that adoptive parents don’t want open records. I am an adoptive parent, and I believe that open records for all parties in adoption is not only a good idea but an idea that is overdue.

You see, the issue is shame. Shame and stigma. And the question is, should our law codify shame?

Closed records are mandated in the Uniform Adoption Act. Article 6 of the Act requires that adoption records be kept secret for 99 years. Identifying information may be disclosed only if both an adoptee and a parent consent and then only with a court order. In fact, people who seek identifying information outside such an order would be subject to criminal sanction. Now that is a drastic measure, and we should consider why information must be kept secret before making it so.

Not until the first part of this century was secrecy mandated in adoption. When records were closed back in the 1930’s in most states, it was thought proper to shield children from the stigma of bastardry, to shield birth parents from the stigma of having borne a bastard, and to shield adoptive parents from the public shame of infertility. It is proper that we consider these stigmas in light of our society today. We as a people say that we value truthfulness. Our law upholds the principle that where we came from is not important – it is who we are. Secrecy in adoption not only isn’t needed, but indeed is harmful to the very people the law has sought to protect.

Adoptees no longer suffer the public shame of being known as a bastard. There are many children who live today with divorced and single parents in many different lifestyles. Why would anyone single out a child who has been adopted? Secrecy in adoption no longer serves adoptees.

Consider birth parents. The number of out-of-wedlock births in this country has increased enormously. How many of us know of a family member or a friend who has been in this situation? We all want to make out-of-wedlock births less common in our society and for good reason. But society has rightly relaxed its stigma towards those who have borne a child outside of marriage. Secrecy in adoption no longer serves birth parents.

Adoptive parents too have benefited from a gentler understanding today. Infertility is still the major reason why many people consider adopting a child. Our society has learned that infertility is a medical condition, just as cancer is a medical condition. I am a physician, and I understand medical conditions very well. Do we require in our law that people with cancer conceal their illness? Do we blame people for being ill? We know that having a medical condition is not shameful. It is simply a fact of life. It is something that everyone at some point has to deal with. Secrecy in adoption no longer serves adoptive parents, birth parents, and adoptees.

Secrecy, in fact, harms us all in adoption. It creates doubt about a process that is good for society. Secrecy communicates to adoptive parents that somehow their children are not truly a part of their family. Their children aren’t quite equal to all the other children out there. Secrecy prevents birth parents from knowing with certainty that they did the right thing. Every birth parent I’ve ever talked to has asked herself if she was right to surrender her child. While society can always provide reassurance, as the saying goes, “seeing is believing.”

Secrecy prevents adoptees from knowing their origins. The longing people have to know their roots is near universal. My sister has an interest in genealogy, and she tells me that we are somehow related distantly to Daniel Boone. That’s nice to know, and it provides us with a sense of connection to the past. Now imagine the adoptee who has no knowledge of his or her origin. That an adoptee has a new family doesn’t erase the longing to answer the oldest questions known to men and women: “who am I? From where did I come?” Adoptees are the only people forbidden by law from knowing the truth of their origin.

There are those who say that, and I understand this, that some in adoption want or need privacy. Privacy is something we can have whenever we want it. Privacy is something we can enforce. Open records does not negate privacy. Open records simply acknowledges a fact of life. What person can forget that he or she bore a child? What adoptive parent can forget that their child came to their family by way of adoption? What adoptee can pretend that their adoption never occurred.

Adoption is indeed a fact of life. It is good and certainly not a reason for shame. If adoption is good, then it can withstand the light of truth. And so, on that basis I urge you to consider the need for open records, and I ask you to remove from any new law the stigma of secrecy from adoption.

Thank you.

The text above is Copyright 1996 by Steven R. White. Permission is granted for reproduction so long as it is used in full without alteration.

Date: Wed, 18 Dec 1996 17:28:00 -0700 (MST)
From: Kathryn G. Johnson: kathryn@primenet.com
Subject: Open Records

I am the (adoptive) mother of a wonderful two-year old boy.

When he is old enough to ask or talk about his birth family, I will bring out a little book of photographs that I have prepared for him. He’ll see pictures of his birth mom and half-siblings when she was still pregnant with him. (Given to us by his birth mother specifically for our son.) He’ll see pictures of his mom and dad (my husband and I) holding him at the hospital on the day he was born. He’ll see a picture of his mother (me) holding him with one arm and embracing his birth mother with the other, both of us crying. We have a beautiful picture of our son being held by his half-sister that makes me weep every time I look at it. We have lots of stories about the day he was born, from a number of different relatives and friends and neighbors and agency workers. We used a licensed agency and therefore have extensive medical and family histories on both birth parents, hospital records from the day he was born, comments from both birth parents about reunification (some of which might be hard for him to take, but the words are there for him just in case.) We connected with his birth mother through mutual friends/relatives only three weeks before our son was born, so we didn’t get to know her for a very long time. But our experience with her was amazing. Me met, we talked, she asked us if we wanted her baby. I asked HER if she was sure she really wanted to give up her baby. She said yes. Her reasons for giving her baby up for adoption (which I won’t go into here, out of respect for her privacy and the privacy of our son) and her intentions were very solid. She knew exactly what she wanted to do. Still, we encouraged her to go through the agency process, so she could talk and receive counseling about other options open to her. She was positive, open-minded, pro-active and so incredibly generous and strong in her goal that our son will be proud to know/hear about her. My husband and I owe her a debt that can never be repaid.

My husband and I want our son to know who he is and where he came from. He has a heritage that reaches back before us, even though we brought him home on the day he was born. He may never have siblings in our family (due to the high cost and difficulty of adoption,) so I am particularly happy that he has a number of half-siblings to connect with when he chooses, one that is even younger than he. He deserves to know about his birth relatives, if he wishes to know them. His birth relatives, if they choose to, will love to know him. His birth mother continues to receive pictures and updates, as per her request. The contact is made through a relative of hers, also at her request, so we have an address and phone number. When he is old enough our son will be able to make his own decision, and my husband and I, and both of our families, will support his wishes.

This option should and must become available for all children of adoption, no matter what. It is important for children to know WHAT HAPPENED! Some of them will not like with they hear. Timing is important – if the event is connected to horrible situations (abuse, rape, abandonment) it is going to take some strong parental guidance and understanding. Even in our case, there are going to be some hurtful truths that will be difficult for our son to understand and accept. Parents must be sensitive to the hurt that results from whatever the situation was. But the information must be there, because it belongs to the adopted child. It is THEIR information. It isn’t fair or right to “protect” someone from knowledge that will help them understand and know how they came to be where they are. Also, if they are informed when they ask, it may save them from some difficult, painful discoveries in an unsupported search.

I understand the need for adoptive parents to “belong” to their child and vice versa; I understand the need for birth parents to have a life beyond whatever painful situation caused them to give up their child; but the child is not at fault. If they need to know, then let them know. If they need to connect, let them try. And parents, whichever ones you are, help the child understand and accept and be brave and move forward. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?

Date: Thu, 19 Dec 1996 00:52:46 -0600
From: J. A. Hallowell: hallwell@itexas.net
Subject: Adoptive parent

My husband and I are biological and adoptive parents. Our situation is somewhat unusual in that my husband was also adopted. In 1994, my husband and I were blessed with the birth of our adopted daughter. We did not apply to adopt but rather the birth mother had known us for years, was intending to place her baby for adoption and asked us if we would be interested in adopting her baby when it was born. She wanted to know personally that the baby would be unconditionally loved and cared for and that was her reason for choosing us.

Around the time of our daughter’s birth, my husband confided in me his desire to locate his own birth family. His explanation was to finally be able to fill in the large empty space that existed in his life from not knowing the circumstances of his birth, not having medical history and not knowing who he resembled in looks and behavior. Seeing what sealed records had done to him, we vowed our daughter would never experience her father’s emptiness.

Prior to our daughter’s birth, we actually took photographs of the birth family, we videotaped some home movies of them, we took a complete family history on each of them. All of this was placed safely away to turn over to our daughter when she begins asking questions that need answers. We never want our daughter to feel the need to go behind our backs to locate her birth family. We intend to provide that need just as we would provide clothing and shelter.

We’ve had people ask us if we do not feel somewhat threatened by intending to be open with our child. We feel if we have been responsible and loving parents, that can never be taken from our daughter. She will always be our daughter regardless of her desire to meet her birth family. Our children are not our possessions but rather a gift from God and they each have their own rights, one of which is knowing the circumstances of their birth and birth parents. Her wanting to know is absolutely no reflection on her love or loyalty to us. Her desiring to have a relationship with her birth family when she is an adult is her decision, not ours.

We finally located my husband’s birth family this past week. After seeing what it meant to my husband to know about his past, I know we have made the correct decision regarding our daughter. As we rejoiced this past week in the location of his birth family, one day we will rejoice with our daughter if she makes the decision to meet her birth family. Our love for her is unconditional.

J. Hallowell

Date: Wed, 18 Dec 1996 19:20:40 -0500 (EST)
From: Linda Fortney: lfortney@umd5.umd.edu (potential adoptive parent)
Subject: Adoptive parent supports open records

When my husband and I first looked into adoption, we were utterly flabbergasted to find out that adults who were adopted were kept from seeing their original birth certificate, knowing who their birth parents were, and knowing their medical histories.

This struck us both as cruel, stupid, and at the very least inimical to good medical practice. Why should an adult be prevented from knowing information about his or her biological family? It makes no sense.

I firmly believe that in almost all cases, where children are adopted at a young age, the adoptive parents are the psychological parents of the child. I feel very badly for any adoptive parent who is so fearful of loosing their adult child that they would oppose open records.

Date: Tue, 16 Jan 1996 13:46:53 -0800
From: Pamela J.S. Mann: pammann@geocities.com

I am an adoptive mom. My son, who will soon be 4, came to us through a fully open adoption shortly after his birth. He is a beautiful little boy. He looks just like his grandmother, with his birthmother’s temper and bright blue eyes. He loves hearing me tell him this. What child wouldn’t? It connects him with where he came from. I don’t believe that any child should be deprived of his heritage, at any time in his or her life. It is a basic human right….to know where you came from. To take this from a human being is, in my opinion, a form of abuse. Think about it….you probably know who your grandfather was, what nationality you are descended from…maybe even when your family first came to this country. These are things you take for granted. How can someone deprive a person of these things? I know I couldn’t go through life knowing that my son didn’t know who he looked like, or if his grandma loved him.

I had an experience when my son was one year old that really bothered me. I lost his adoption papers, and called the court, thinking that since we had an open adoption, I could just request this information. WRONG! Maryland doesn’t recognize open adoptions. So, I had to petition the court to get basic, needed information. This is ridiculous, and it shouldn’t happen! Nobody should have to beg for information that was theirs at birth! What would happen if something were to happen to me and my husband, and my son needed this information? Why should he have to beg for it? I am totally opposed to closed records after the age of 18, and in most cases, before. I know that there are cases where children are removed from their parents for abuse and neglect. In these cases ALONE do I think that this information should be withheld, but ONLY until the child reaches 18, at which time, it should be released to him, for HIM to decide whether or not he wants to have contact. There are very few good reasons for an adoptive parent to deprive a child of his God-given right to his heritage. Worrying about whether you will lose your child’s love is NOT one of them!

**** I hope this is what you’re looking for. I’m glad you’re doing this. People need to know that most reasonable adoptive parents feel the same as you, that a person’s birthrecords are theirs alone and that nobody has the right to keep you from them! Good luck! ****

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Any political organization seeking to enact true open records legislation should be very clear with both their constituents and the legislators they work with about what the essential provisions of the proposed bill are. Any modification or deletion of the essential provisions of a bill should be immediate cause to have the bill killed.

Any political organization seeking the assistance of Bastard Nation to pass open records legislation must hold unconditional access by adult adoptees to the original record of their birth as an essential provision that cannot be modified or deleted. Read our Mission Statement.

Bastard Nation will not assist any political organization to pass open records legislation unless their governing board or other leadership

passes a written resolution such as the following that commits the board to a strategy of no compromise on key provisions
informs its constituents of this commitment and this strategy
informs the sponsoring legislators of this commitment and this strategy.

WHEREAS we recognize that disclosure and contact vetoes, redactions, mandatory intermediaries and registry provisions are an affront to the dignity of adopted persons everywhere and a violation of their right to due process and equal treatment under the law,

WHEREAS there has been a demonstrable negative effect on the ability to pass unconditional open records in states that have passed veto legislation and/or any provisions that are less than unconditional access on demand by the adult adoptee,

WHEREAS our primary goal is to restore the right of adult adoptees everywhere to be treated as full citizens under the law,

WE HEREBY DECLARE that under no circumstances will we accept the addition of veto, redaction, intermediary, or registry provisions, or any conditional provisions to our legislation that would be less than unconditional access for adult adoptees to the original record of their birth. All legislative sponsors and members of this organization will be informed of our policy on this matter to ensure that the bill is pulled promptly in the event of such revisions.

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